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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gone Girl

Pardon the lateness but, no, just because I'm one of the last people on earth to review this does not mean I'll be including spoilers here. It's tempting, especially as it makes it so much easier to actually review the thing but you really should go in knowing as little about what happens as possible - well, beyond the basic premise anyway. Although, then again, maybe not...

It's incredibly tempting to do two different reviews for Gone Girl: one for those who are utterly unaware of the story and one for those who have already read the book, seen the film or absolutely don't care about spoilers. I'm lazy though, so that's not going to happen. What I will say is this: if you want to go in knowing nothing about what happens in the film, don't read a word beyond the next two paragraphs.

The premise itself has been well advertised and actually tells you nothing about the rest of the film so I suppose it's OK to know that Gone Girl - adapted from her own novel by Gillian Flynn and directed by the venerable David Fincher - is about what happens when Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) walks into his house on his fifth wedding anniversary to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing. It's also perfectly safe to say that I couldn't recommend Gone Girl highly enough, that it's easily one of David Fincher's best films to date, that it's one of the must-see films of the year and that, despite all this, it may well rub you very much the wrong way if you don't have, at the very least, a twisted sense of humour.

Beyond this point, there still won't be any technical plot spoilers but, because I will be talking, about the film's themes, its genre(s) and its very strange tone(s), it might still be more than you want to know. Personally, as someone who had read the book and knew just about every turn the film was going to make, I actually don't think general plot spoilers will actually spoil the film - but, in the spirit of being better safe than sorry, maybe come back and read the review after seeing the movie.  


Still here? OK, good, onto the movie itself.

Contrary to what the advertising may have you believe, Gone Girl is only barely a thriller. Sure, it has a mystery at the centre of it - one that may or may not run throughout the entire film - and there are plenty of the typical police procedural trappings of the genre to be found throughout but, fundamentally, when you get right down to it, Gone Girl is basically a comedy. It's a caustic, vitriolic, twisted, pitch-black and highly satirical comedy, to be sure, but it's a comedy nonetheless.

Now, I have to admit, I did not actually get this impression from the book itself. Flynn's novel may have had its blackly comedic moments, but it always felt like a mystery-drama-thriller first and a satire second - which is why, incidentally, I was kind of uneasy about the "shift" that the novel makes halfway through. However much I loved the twist, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was an uneasy move, tonally. The book may have been very enjoyable but it never quite felt of a piece with itself.

The same, however, certainly can't be said of the film. It may simply be the case that because I knew how the mystery played out, I was able to concentrate on the very definite comedic underpinnings right from the off, but I'm going to give Fincher and Flynn the benefit of the doubt and assume that the two of them have simply improved on the source and have made that most rare of rarities: a film that is significantly better than the book on which it is based.

Fincher has always been able to instill within his films a real sense of atmosphere but for all of Gone Girl's muted colour pallet and brooding tone, it's actually far closer in feel to Fight Club than it is to Seven. Even when things get incredibly bleak for our (nominal) protagonist(s), the film itself is never bleak, never dour and never less than a rollickingly bonkers good time. Fincher's decision to turn those typically Fincher-y visuals away from the gloomy crime films for which he is most known towards something that is far pulpier, far fruitier and far funnier, somehow unifies the fractured story in a way that the novel never managed to do.

Gone Girl  starts off like a fairly straightforward mystery thriller but even in this simple enough first act (and, by the way, just about all the footage found in the trailers are from this part of the film) there is still plenty of caustic humour to be found - especially courtesy of Kim Dickens' delightfully snarky Detective Boney and Patrick Fugit as her quietly droll assistant - and a sense of the ridiculous is never more than just barely out of sight.

As it goes on though, the satirical humour becomes more and more prevalent as the film really becomes an exploration of how we present ourselves to other people and, more crucially, can you ever really know your significant other. Long before the big twist happens, in fact, that so obviously, perhaps even clumsily, changed the tone in the novel, you can almost see the film's cheshire grin growing with each passing moments as it takes viciously gleeful swipes at everyone from sensationalist news reporting to upper-class socialites to a gossip-hungry public but is never more blackly comic than when it comes to dealing with our main characters.

And, speaking of our main characters, none of this would work half as well as its top-notch cast - and, yes, I'm including Tyler Perry in this, who is simply astounding as an utter shark of a defense attorney. Ben Affleck has always been able to play both charming everymen and seriously creepy assholes but he has seldom been asked to run the gamut between the two as often as he does here, but he more than rises to the challenge and finally and decisively puts to bed the notion that he can't act. Along with the above mentioned actors, we also get wonderful support from the likes of Carrie Coon as Nick's sister and Neil Patrick Harris playing terrifically against type as Amy's, shall we say, intense ex. Rising high above even these towering performances though is Rosamund Pike, an already excellent actress, who has never been better than as the (for starters) enigmatic Amy Dunne. She's really mind-bogglingly good and more than deserves every last bit of awards recognition that she is bound to get for her work here.      

I really cannot recommend this film enough. It's an expectation-defying masterpiece that is incredibly smart, hilariously funny and, despite its measured pacing is so captivating that its 150-odd minutes fly by. It has gotten its share of backlash (no, it's not sexist and no, it sure as hell isn't "humourless" or empty - though it is vicious) but I really couldn't recommend Gone Girl highly enough.    

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